Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rome Day 2 Continued... It's called the Eternal City because you can never see it all!

We continued through the Vatican Museum, astounded by the size and awestruck by the sheer volume of art we were seeing. Some of these items were just mind-boggling in their size:

Hercules of the Theater of Pompey. It would be hard to miss this guy on the street.

River God Tiber

Bust of Hellenistic-Egyptian God Serapis. The Vase on the Head is a nice touch. Maybe he was a real party animal and that was how he wanted to be remembered since lampshades hadn't been invented yet.

Constantina's Sarcophagus

We moved into the next area, the Etruscan Museum. The Etruscans were an ancient civilization that pre-dated the Romans and were anthropologically unique. Their language was completely distinct and recent DNA studies of their remains show them to have little in common with modern Romans. One theory has them migrating to the northwestern area of Italy from central Asia. Their artifacts date back as far as the ninth century BC. They were eventually conquered by the Romans and their culture assimilated into the culture of Rome. The Gregorian Etruscan Museum at the Vatican Museum has an extensive display of tools, jewelry, household items and artwork. They were especially sophisticated in the use of metals.

That's a VERY big flower pot!

Ancient chariot, 550-540 BC,laminated and melted bronze, on modern wooden reconstruction

This was considered a SWEET ride in its time. I'm guessing that some poor slave was given the job of pushing it around... and on the cobblestone roads of the time that had to be a tough job.

There's a LOT of gold in this breastplate. The good news: it's a beautiful piece of jewelry. The bad news: it's heavy enough to choke you to death. But you would be a GORGEOUS corpse!

Now THIS is more like it! You can wear this jewelry without having to go to a chiropractor afterwards.

Pretty spooky looking soup pot!

The ceilings were worthy of a museum totally devoted to them alone. I had such a crick in my neck from walking around staring straight up.

Ancient maps...

And even incredibly crafted doors...

And then we hit the motherlode, the place I had been most excited to see... the Sistine Chapel. As expected there was a long line to get in but I was willing to wait. And it was worth it. It was larger than I expected, darkened to protect the fragile artwork and there were museum staff members circulating in the large crowd shushing them... it is a sacred place and yelling to your buddies across the room just isn't appropriate. Also, photography in any form is strictly forbidden. Flash photography damages the paintings over time and other photography impacts the sale of postcards and other souvenirs. The flash ban I totally agree for the other ban...well, let's just say the Vatican isn't in danger of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy anytime in the next few millenia, judging from the brisk sale of souvenirs going on so I'm not as convinced of the validity of that one. Meredith was wearing a baseball cap and took it off in reverence to the setting, but it also made a convenient place to inconspicuously get off a couple of shots straight up. The first couple were blurry since it was hard to keep the camera steady for the long time that the low light required. We found a seat on a bench along the side of the chapel and she had better luck there. Here are her results:

We were there for about a half hour... I could have stayed much longer just trying to take in the complexity of that amazing place. It truly is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. But there were many others waiting to get in so we left. We walked back down the long hallway where Meredith took a picture of me to prove I had been there :-)

and then we descended the beautiful spiral stairway to the exit to the Museum.

It had been a wonderful morning, full of such an amazing array of gorgeous items and reminders of ancient times... but now we were hungry! As we turned the corner of the museum we noticed quite a bit of commotion in St. Peter's Square. Someone told us that since it was Wednesday, the Pope was having his weekly open air audience in the square so we figured we would take a peek.

And there he was!

They had large screens around the square so the thousands and thousands of people in attendance could see him.

The Swiss Guard were on duty for crowd control.

Because the Pope was delivering his audience, the main Basilica was closed to the public. We decided to go get something to eat and come back later to see it. We also figured it would be easier to find a place nearby before the crowds began pouring out of the square, hot, thirsty and hungry. We were so right! We found a small outdoor restaurant a block away and ordered our lunch. Just after it arrived, the masses began pouring down the street in amazing numbers. We even saw bridal couples dressed in full wedding regalia... I assume they were there to get a special Papal blessing. It was a madhouse. Sadly, we also saw young children coming table to table begging for money. They were very insistent, refusing to leave until the waiter finally shooed them away. We saw that phenomenon in nearly every city we visited and even on the trains. They had various strategies. Some would put a flower on your lap and if you even as much as touched it, insist that you pay for it. Others just stood over you chanting their woeful request, hoping you would give them something just to get rid of them. It was very sad.

After lunch we returned to St. Peter's Square, hoping to get into the Basilica. Unfortunately, many of the people who had attended the audience had the same idea and the line was horrendously long. It moved slowly due to the security measures that each person has to pass through to enter the Basilica so we decided against standing in the hot sun. We did get another picture of the Swiss Guards and some pictures of St. Peter's Square, including its beautiful fountain.

We'll just HAVE to come back to get in a visit to St. Peter's!

We then headed out of St. Peter's Square and walked down toward the Tiber River. There was a lovely shaded walkway along the river, giving us some relief from the relentless sun. We crossed the river on this ancient bridge...

and wandered along until we found the Spanish Steps, a site that Meredith had been anxious to see. It was VERY hot, yet the crowds were still heavy.

Like so many of the historical sites and monuments we had seen throughout Italy, there was a major renovation going on. It is so nice to see that these sites are valued enough to be kept up. However, there never seems to be anyone actually working on them when we go by so I wonder how energetic the process really is!

We continued wandering the area, coming across this impressive monument.

and eventually reaching our goal, the Trevi Fountain. It too was crowded. People were tossing coins over their shoulder into the fountain, an act that is supposed to guarantee that you return to Rome. It is a gorgeous fountain and we took our turn with the coin toss, jockeying for a position next to the edge to ensure success.

We were exhausted and it had been a long day with a lot of heat and sun so we did the true Mediterranean afternoon thing... we went back to the hotel and took a nap! It felt SO good. Later, in the cool of the evening, we strolled past the park where the multicultural festival was still going on, found a little restaurant with outdoor tables and enjoyed our last dinner in Rome. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the festival for a little while and then headed back to pack for an early departure the next morning for two days in Florence.

Arrivederci Roma... I will come back someday, I promise!

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